Protect yourself from ID theft: be prepared

It seems that everywhere we turn these days, there’s a new threat to our personal information. Identity theft is a continuous problem and it truly is just that – everywhere.

Identity theft is truly the crime that won’t go away, and it can be both costly and time consuming. The average victim i 2009 lost $4,840 and spent 21 hours cleaning up the mess left by identity thieves, whose motive was to swipe your information and use it to drain accounts, obtain credit cards and create havoc in your life.

Identity theft can happen anywhere to anyone. but there are some known areas of risk that you can avoid, if you know how.

• Thieves are preying on people’s urgency to find work. In some cases, phony online ads ask that a resume include a Social Security number, or that applicants bring personal documents to a location that’s not a real office. If you can’t see a person face to face or can’t check out the company by doing a little basic research, beware. Limit personal information on your resume; include your e-mail address and telephone, but not necessarily your home address, and never a Social Security number.

• Children are being targeted for their Social Security numbers and clean credit records. Scammers zero in on them because the crime can often go undetected for years. Signs of possible child identity theft include bills, credit cards or debt collection calls coming to you in your child’s name. If you suspect your child’s identity has been stolen, check with the three credit reporting agencies to see if a credit report exists in your child’s name. If there isn’t one, it’s good news. If there is, it’s likely your child has been victimized. You should be stingy in giving out your child’s Social Security information, and be sure you know why it’s needed and ask if there’s an alternative form of identification that can be used.

• The holidays are coming, and it can be an especially risky time. Remember to never carry large amounts of cash or your Social Security card. If you’re not using your checkbook, leave it at home. Be careful using ATMs, and if something looks strange about the ATM, don’t use it. Make copies of your credit cards, front and back, so that you can easily report a loss or fraudulent charges. Check your bank and credit card statements to be sure all the entries are yours. If you shop online, be sure the site is secure.

• Experts say one of the easiest and best things you can do to protect yourself is to shred any documents that bear your personal information. You should also be sure to remove your information from old cell phones and computers.

Remember, fighting identity theft is a constant battle that requires constant attention. Attacks can come from all fronts – and it pays to be prepared.

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